Fight against Qatari plans for Paris mansion
Residents of Paris’ Saint Louis island go to court to oppose renovating a historical building by a Qatari prince.Paris – Celebrity residents of Paris' Saint Louis island went to court Friday to try to stop Qatar's royal family from modernising a pristine 17th-century mansion in the historical district on the River Seine.
A brother of the emir of Qatar bought the Hotel Lambert in 2007, receiving an official green-light in June for work to restore the listed building, one of the gems of the island, which is classed as a UNESCO Heritage site.
But residents fear the Qatari plans – which were watered down but still involve destroying a staircase, putting in new elevators and an underground car park – would wreck one of Paris' best-preserved "hotel particulier" mansions.
Some 8,000 people have signed a petition to defend the Hotel Lambert, launched by the Paris Historique heritage group, which appeared in court Friday in a bid to block the works.
Judges gave the pressure group, the Qatari prince's lawyer and the French culture ministry until 31 August to provide extra information on the case, before reaching ruling.
Detractors of the project include the French singer and songwriter Georges Moustaki, the 1940s movie star Michele Morgan – who lived in the Hotel Lambert for 20 years – and several historians from the prestigious Academie Française.
Composer Henri Dutilleux, a Saint Louis resident for more than half a century, warned the works would "alter the exceptional architectural singularity" of the building.
"The Hotel Lambert is the jewel of the island. We absolutely must preserve it," agreed Moustaki.
Built in the 1640s at the eastern tip of the island, not far from Notre Dame Cathedral, the Hotel Lambert was designed for a rich financier by the architect Louis Le Vau, who went on to oversee a major expansion of the Chateau de Versailles for Louis XIV.
Ranged around a central courtyard garden, it is considered one of the finest examples of mid-17th-century domestic French architecture, complete with mural paintings by Charles Le Brun and other masters of the day.
The mansion is charged with history – its uses over the years ranging from a hideaway for the 18th-century philosopher Voltaire and his lover, to political headquarters for Polish exiles in the following century.
Today, though, it has fallen into disrepair, with its grand staircase twisted out of shape, sections of floorboard rotting through and part of its roof timber worn out.
The Qatari prince acquired it from the Rothschild banking family in 2007 in a deal worth an estimated 60 million euros (86 million dollars), and commissioned a team of French architects to turn it into a family home.
But the Qatari's wide-ranging plans for the building raised hackles, and were heavily watered down after months of talks between the French state, Paris city hall and heritage defence groups.
France's culture ministry finally gave the go-ahead in June for a revamped proposal, drawn up by Alain-Charles Perrot, chief architect for Paris' historical monuments who oversaw the restoration of the Opera-Garnier in Paris.
Perrot says he wants to return the building as close as possible to its 18th-century condition, removing some additions made in the 19th century such as skylights.
"The prince is passionate about French art and asked me to restore as faithfully as possible," Perrot said earlier this year.
But Paris Historique is challenging the plans on technical grounds, arguing that digging out a car park and machinery room and drilling up to three new elevator shafts risks damaging the island building's foundations.
Perrot has insisted structural changes would be kept to a minimum, and that all restoration would be carried out in period style.
But detractors still say the project amounts to swapping a piece of French history for a ‘pastiche’.
"If the Hotel Lambert has kept such sovereign beauty, it is because it has always been lived in with the utmost respect," the architect Henri Gaudin wrote in a letter of support to the petitioners.
"It is not up to a masterpiece to adapt to our lifestyle. It is up to us to learn to live with its own particular harmony."
AFP / Expatica